India delinks terror from composite dialogue
After three hours of hard-nosed negotiations, India and Pakistan today came out with a joint statement in which New Delhi appears to have bent somewhat on its earlier steadfast position of keeping the focus on terror.
The statement, issued after the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the NAM summit, recognised that terrorism was the “main threat to both countries’’ but delinked the menace from the resumption of the composite dialogue process.
In fact, India even agreed with the Pakistani formulation that it is also a victim of terror. Both reaffirmed their resolve to cooperate on this issue and share “real-time, credible and actionable information on any future terror attacks”.
“Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed,” the statement said, marking a clear climbdown by India which had been insisting that terrorism is the main issue before the two countries and that a dialogue between them was contingent on Islamabad taking credible action against the plotters of last year’s Mumbai terror attacks. Islamabad had been pushing for the resumption of the dialogue process, which was called off by India after the Mumbai carnage.
On its part, Pakistan conceded some ground to the Indian negotiating team by dropping any reference to Kashmir though there was an implicit mention to this issue in the statement which said, “Prime Minister Singh said that India is ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding ones.”
Later addressing a press conference, Manmohan Singh sought to downplay the reference to delinking terror from the dialogue process, saying New Delhi’s position on the issue remained unchanged. “Pakistan wants the dialogue to begin. We said it can’t commence unless action is taken against those who masterminded the Mumbai terror attack,’’ he underlined.
Asserting that the joint statement could not be termed as surrender by India, the PM said India wanted an assurance that acts like Mumbai would not recur. He emphasised that the India-Pakistan normalisation process would fail to move ahead if no action was taken by Pakistan to check terrorism emanating from its soil. “We made it clear that if acts of terror continue to be perpetrated, there is no question of a dialogue.’’
However, he reiterated that India could choose its friends but not neighbours. “Dialogue is the only way forward but the composite dialogue has its history…we need to think over it.’’ There was no decision on the nature of dialogue and the issue would be sorted out by the foreign secretaries. “Engagement is the only route forward. We can’t predict how things will turn out, only time will tell.”
The release of JuD chief Hafeez Saeed, one of the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks, did figure during the talks between the two prime ministers. Manmohan Singh was informed by Gilani that the government in the province of Punjab was set to appeal against his release in the court. The Indian PM also clarified that he had never accused the democratically-elected government of Pakistan of encouraging terrorism.
Prime Minister Singh did reiterate the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice to which Gilani assured him that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.
However, Pakistan scored over India by muscling in a mention to the troubled Balochistan in the statement. “Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas,” the statement said. Islamabad has persistently accused India of fomenting trouble in its largest province in response to New Delhi’s charge that the Pakistani territory was being used for launching terror attacks against India.
The statement, later described by Gilani as a breakthrough, also recognised that dialogue was the only way forward and agreed that their foreign secretaries should meet “as often as necessary” and report back to the two foreign ministers.
The joint statement was finalised at two long meetings Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon had with his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir shortly after the Indian delegation’s arrival here. The two foreign secretaries met late on Tuesday night, followed by another meeting yesterday to prepare the ground for their principals to hold talks.
Manmohan Singh had nearly an hour-long one-on-one meeting with the Pakistani premier. Later the two leaders were joined by their respective delegations. The Indian team included National Security Adviser MK Narayanan, the foreign secretary, and other top officials while the Pakistani delegation consisted of foreign secretary Bashir and High Commissioner of Pakistan to India Shahid Malik.
Many in the Indian diplomatic establishment were skeptical about the language of the joint statement, which clearly gave an impression that India had diluted its tough stand on the issue of terrorism, but PM Singh pushed through his agenda in keeping with his stand that good neighbourly relation between India and Pakistan presented a win-win situation for both of them.